Changing Gears

Changing Gears
12:03 pm
Wed January 11, 2012

Who are manufacturers hiring? Answer: People with skills

Dan Spohn found a new job within two weeks of being laid off last November.
Sarah Alvarez Changing Gears

The numbers from manufacturing are looking good, I reported last week.

Bill Strauss from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago told me that of the 2.3 million manufacturing jobs lost in the recession, at least 300,000 of those jobs have come back. That’s about 13 percent.

Today, I look at why employers say it’s hard to find those skilled workers.

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Detroit Auto Show
1:07 pm
Tue January 10, 2012

Honda revives NS-X sportscar, will build it in Ohio

The concept Acura NS-X.
Micki Maynard/Changing Gears

Honda made history in 1990 when it introduced the high powered Acura NS-X sports car. But it discontinued it in 2005 to focus on more fuel efficient models.

Now, NS-X is coming back. And instead of Japan, where it built the original car, it will build it in Ohio.

Honda made the announcement this afternoon at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. It showed a concept version of the NS-X unveiled by its CEO, Takanobu Ito.

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Changing Gears
11:05 am
Wed January 4, 2012

What lies ahead for Midwestern manufacturing?

Chicago White Metal Casting is hiring. They're looking for die cast machinists, especially repair men.
Niala Boodhoo Changing Gears

Just before you get to the factory floor of Chicago White Metal Casting, there’s a grainy, mural-sized picture of what the floor used to look like in the 1930s, when the business started by CEO Eric Treiber’s grandfather.

Back then, it was on the second floor of Chicago’s Fulton Street Fish Market.

Today, the family-owned company operates further north of the city, just west of O’Hare International Airport.

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Your Story
11:00 am
Fri December 30, 2011

2011 in review: the good, the bad, and the ugly

With a new year just days away we asked you to take stock of 2011. Michigan’s economy shows signs of improving, but times are still tough for many around the state.

So we decided to put the question directly to you. What was good about 2011? What didn’t go well?

These word clouds sum up the responses listeners and readers sent on Facebook or through the Public Insight Network.  You can view the word clouds by clicking on the image above.

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Economy
1:36 pm
Wed December 28, 2011

Cities look to philanthropy as economic development tool

Much of downtown Grand Rapids' resurgence can be credited to philanthropic investments.
Dustin Dwyer Changing Gears

The Amway HotelVan Andel Arena. The Grand Rapids Public Museum. What do all these things have in common? Yes, they're all credited with helping turn downtown Grand Rapids around. But they also owe their existence, at least in part, to something else: philanthropy.

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2011
12:00 pm
Thu December 22, 2011

A look back: Michigan Radio's coverage of the economy and housing

Image by John Klein Wilson Michigan Radio

As 2011 comes to an end, we look back at some of the economic and housing stories we covered in the last year. The housing slide slowed in the last year, but Michigan was still near the top of the home foreclosure list. The decrease in home values continued to have grave implications for local governments reliant on property taxes (One caller described the fall in housing prices in his six-word story, "$80,000 to $11,000, Northwest Detroit").

In six words or less, here's how people categorized their housing experiences in Michigan:

And here's a small sampling of Michigan Radio stories about the economy and housing:

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Your Story
1:01 pm
Fri December 16, 2011

Did ANYTHING good happen in 2011?

Adam Prince flickr

The time for year-end lists and reflections is upon us!

By many measures 2011 has been a tough year around the state. The economy delivered another beating to Michigan, and many businesses and families have a long way to go before they start feeling a recovery.

So...that's the bad news.

But what's the good news?

Have there been things that have gone well this year for you and yours?

What are you thankful for in your community, your work, your family? 

We'll match some of these local stories with an NPR's year-end series.

Just click here to share your story.

Politics
5:05 pm
Tue December 13, 2011

Panel sends UM union issue to judge, excludes Attorney General

Attorney General Bill Schuette
Courtesy of Bill Schuette

Update 5:05

An administrative law judge will decide whether graduate students at the University of Michigan get the chance to try and form a union.

The Michigan Employment Relations Commission has decided to send the case on for a hearing.

The commission also ruled that Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette cannot be a party to the case. Schuette has argued the commission should reject the unionization proposal.

Patrick Wright of the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation represents a group of students that’s opposed to unionizing. Wright criticized the commission’s decision to deny those students’ request to be a party to the case.

“The only parties that are going to be admitted to be full parties in that hearing are the university and the union, which both want the graduate students to be designated as public employees,” said Wright.

The commission said the students Wright represents can present evidence to the administrative law judge.

At issue is whether the students are public employees. If the judge rules they are, they’ll be allowed to hold an election.

-Allison Lyons, Michigan Radio Newsroom

9:32 AM

The Michigan Employment Relations Commission is expected to decide today whether graduate students at the University of Michigan can try to form a union. Some graduate students who also work as researchers and teachers have been trying to unionize for years.

Now, Michigan’s Attorney General, Bill Schuette, also wants to get involved.

So today at its public meeting the Commission will need to decide two things.

First, graduate students need to be employees to unionize. The Commission has to decide if the students are employees, and might pass the decision along to an Administrative Law Judge.

Second, the Commission has to decide if the Schuette can get involved.

In a letter to the commission Schuette says a graduate student union would make U of M less competitive, hurt the state, and that the Commission decided the issue thirty years ago.

His letter says it’s important Schuette be involved on behalf of the state to express these concerns. His office thinks it’s likely the Commission will allow him to take part as the matter moves forward.

Changing Gears
5:30 pm
Fri December 9, 2011

Report: Developers trend toward repurposing shuttered auto plants

Inside the shuttered GM Wyoming Stamping Plant. A report finds around half of these old plants end up getting repurposed.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Of the 263 automotive plants closed across the country over the past three decades, nearly 49 percent have been repurposed, according to a Labor Department study released Thursday.

And the pace of redeveloping them has accelerated.

The New York Times reported today that, despite the fragile economy, developers have bought as many closed plants in the past three years – 32– as they did in the previous 26 years. Lower property values and a glut of plants on the market have contributed to the trend.

The repurposed plants have welcomed traditional manufacturers, and some of have been turned into housing developments, offices and research centers which has helped affected communities rediscover needed tax revenues, according to the study, which was authored by Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Center for Automotive Research.

Regional differences influenced the fate of plants following their closures. Sites in the South and along the East and West coasts fared the best in finding new users, according to The Times, which said all 14 former plants closed in California and Texas were reused. In Michigan, the state hardest hit by closures, 43 of 105 have been revitalized.

Overall, 135 of the 263 remain vacant, including 24 that have been closed for at least two decades.

“They’re not all going to repurposed,” Jay Williams, executive director of the Office of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers, told the newspaper. “Not every community is going to find a pot of gold at the end of this pathway.”

Offbeat
4:43 pm
Wed December 7, 2011

Michigan to Wisconsin: Hands off our mitten image

The offending use of a mitten.
travelwisconsin.com

In a fight over mittens, the gloves have come off.

Michigan and Wisconsin are tussling over which state can rightly lay claim to using mittens in their public-relations and tourism campaigns.

Michiganders, who have long nicknamed the state’s lower peninsula “The Mitten,” for its similar shape to a hand, have taken good-natured umbrage to a new campaign launched by Wisconsin’s Department of Tourism, which uses a knit-brown mitten to represent the shape of the state.

Wisconsin began using the new image in tourism campaigns on Dec. 1, and tells the Detroit Free Press it follows up on an earlier seasonal campaign that used an image of a leaf shaped like the state in the fall. A Wisconsin Department of Tourism spokesperson tells the newspaper that people in Wisconsin consider their state mitten-shaped as well.

Dave Lorenz, who manages public relations for the state of Michigan, tells the Free Press that, “We understand their mitten envy. But there is only one mitten state, only one Great Lakes state.”

Changing Gears
9:27 am
Wed December 7, 2011

Can technology breathe new life into the Midwest's old iron?

The industrial Midwest might not be the industrial Midwest if it weren’t for the iron-rich regions of northern Minnesota and Michigan. These iron ranges have long supplied domestic steelmakers, depleting the highest quality ore along the way. Now, a plant in Minnesota is testing a process to dramatically upgrade the low-grade ore that remains.

To understand why this matters, keep in mind how steelmaking has changed.  The old recipe for steel calls for iron ore, coke and a blast furnace.  But now, more than half of American steel is made in electric arc furnaces, which use electricity to melt scrap steel into new steel.

You can find those ingredients in your own kitchen or garage.

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Changing Gears
1:51 pm
Fri December 2, 2011

Need tips to help get through the recession? Get Midwest money help from CNN's experts

CNN's Ali Velshi and Christine Romans review your questions.
Changing Gears

The recession has played havoc with personal finances all over the Midwest, whether you’re starting from scratch, or trying to stretch your budget to get through these hard times.

It can be hard to get good advice on what to do.

Rest easy. We’re offering some Midwest Money help.

Two of the country’s leading experts on personal finance issues — CNN’s Ali Velshi and Christine Romans– are teaming up with Changing Gears to provide some answers.

Each week, Ali and Christine tackle pressing financial dilemmas on their CNN program, Your Money, and they’ve compiled their tips in the new book, How to Speak Money: The Language and the Knowledge That You Need Now.

Here’s your chance for Midwest Money advice.

Send us anything that’s on your mind, from retirement, to job hunting, to your mortgage and more.

We’ll pose your questions to Ali and Christine, and publish their answers every day during the week of Dec. 19. And, if they pick a question that you sent in, you’ll get an autographed copy of their new book.

Post your questions here.

Changing Gears
10:17 am
Wed November 30, 2011

Empty Series: New life for historic GM complex in Flint

The Fisher Body Plant No. 1 in Flint. Crowds gather in support of the sit-down strikers.
Courtesy of Walter P. Reuther Library Wayne State University

There may be no better example of how the industrial Midwest is changing than the site of the old Fisher Body Plant No. 1 in Flint, Michigan. It’s one of the factories sit-down strikers occupied in the 1930s. The plant made tanks during World War II. It was later closed, gutted and reborn as a GM design center. But GM abandoned the site after bankruptcy and the new occupants don’t make cars. They sell very expensive prescription drugs.

There’s one group of experts who can always tell you the history and significance of an old factory. They’re the guys at the bar across the street.

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Your Story
9:07 am
Fri November 25, 2011

Your Story: Once an abandoned liquor store, now a brewery

Barry Van Dyke outside what will soon be the Harmony Brewing Company
courtesy of Barry Van Dyke

Jack’s Liquor Store was never a beautiful building, even before it closed down and stood empty for more than 10 years. It was a dingy, generic convenience store on a corner. In May 2010, 33-year-old Grand Rapids resident Barry Van Dyke and two siblings bought it anyway.

The store sits on the border of the Uptown and Eastown neighborhoods in Grand Rapids. Eastown has been known as a diverse, vibrant business district and the Van Dyke’s wanted to capitalize on the energy and traffic. They plan to open a brewery in the space soon, Harmony Brewery. But converting the formerly empty building has not been easy.

The Van Dykes came into the project with redevelopment experience. Together, with their father, they own a local property management company called Bear Manor. They’ve bought, fixed up, and rented or sold 13 residential and three commercial properties in Grand Rapids, mostly in the Uptown neighborhood.

These 16 buildings are just a dent in the at least 1,078 buildings the city of Grand Rapids has documented as abandoned. Barry Van Dyke isn’t surprised there are so many. He says the thing most people don’t realize about renovating empty places is how long it takes.

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Culture of Class
9:03 am
Fri November 18, 2011

Listener Mailbag: What you are saying about our “Culture of Class” series

Word cloud put together with your "Culture of Class" comments.

We’ve been reading all your comments on our Culture of Class series (If we haven’t heard from you tell us your thoughts).

We’ve heard from people who have enjoyed the pieces and those who have offered, well, constructive criticism.

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Arts/Culture
9:30 am
Thu November 10, 2011

Factories in the neighborhood; remembering Mr. Rogers factory tours

Tom Link, owner of Link Bass and Cello, glues a label into a finished bass violin in his factory.
Sarah Alvarez

Today’s American manufacturing industry is a shadow of what it once was. It’s lost millions of jobs and thousands of factories.

Many of us know what some of those factories looked like in their heyday. Not because we visited the factories ourselves, but because we watched them on T.V., with Mr. Rogers as our tour guide. Mr. Rogers’ factory videos started airing in the early nineteen seventies and ran through the late nineties.

Through these kids watched how all kinds of things in the world around them were made, like construction paper and graham crackers.

These places were full of old looking metal equipment and conveyer belts lit by florescent lights. They were also full of people, workers were busy pumping out things like trumpets and shoes and flashlights. I wanted to know if the factories in some of these video's had survived all the upheaval in manufacturing over the last few decades.

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Politics
8:46 am
Thu November 10, 2011

Five things to know about workers' compensation

D.Clow flickr

Sweeping proposed changes to Michigan's Workers' Compensation law are working their way through the state government. Here's a recap on some basics about the system.

The basics

Most employers in the state must participate in the workers' compensation system.

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Changing Gears
12:29 pm
Wed November 9, 2011

Empty Series: In Detroit, it's not squatting … it's blotting (Part 2)

Paula Besheers and her son Paul Browne tried in vain to buy the empty lot right next door.
Kate Davidson Changing Gears

We’re looking at the challenges of the region’s empty places this month.

For many people, the most threatening emptiness isn’t a shuttered factory.  It’s the abandoned property next door.  But in Detroit, some residents are using that emptiness to quietly reshape their neighborhoods.

They’re annexing vacant lots around them, buying them when they can or just putting up a fence.

They’re not squatters … they’re blotters.

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Economy
1:58 pm
Thu November 3, 2011

Poverty growing, changing around the Midwest

A report released today shows poverty is on the rise in Midwestern suburbs.
Mike McCaffrey flickr

Stereotypes of people living in poverty are persistent.

But Alan Berube of the Brookings Institution says these stereotypes are becoming less accurate.

A report released today by the Institution shows poverty is growing and affecting many it didn’t touch before.

Some highlights from the report:

  • Concentrated poverty rose in Midwestern cities, but the number of people living in very poor neighborhoods is rising faster in the suburbs.
  • Poverty still affects communities of color in the inner cities. But, over the last decade poverty has grown among the number of well-educated white people living outside cities.
  • In the last decade concentrations of poverty have crept back up. That's where 40 percent of the people in a particular neighborhood live below the federal poverty line. These kinds of concentrations were on the decline up until 2000.
  • These concentrations of poverty almost doubled in the Midwest over the last decade. 

See more highlights, and read the entire report, at the Brookings Institution website.

Inform our coverage: How has the growth in poverty touched your life?

Changing Gears
9:06 am
Wed November 2, 2011

Empty Series: The economic and social cost of emptiness (Part 1)

It's been estimated that 27 percent of the buildings in Detroit are vacant. Some experts say that figure has been improving of late.
Tim Beckett Flickr

This week, Changing Gears kicks off a look at Empty across our region. During November, we’ll be looking at empty buildings, empty property — and how we can fill things up again.

In the first part of our series, I explore the economic and social cost of emptiness.

Things may be better in some neighborhoods, but problems still abound.

The numbers

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